As far back as he can remember, Greensboro street artist Brian Lewis — who goes by his artist name JEKS — has loved creating. He can recall how much he enjoyed drawing, even as a toddler, and says his mother still has some of those early works.
Today, he’s become one of the most sought-after artists in Greensboro’s burgeoning street-art scene. His spray-painted murals adorn the sides of buildings throughout the city and beyond. He was even commissioned to paint a wall at the Pabst Blue Ribbon headquarters in Los Angeles.
JEKS found his way to the spray-paint medium as a preteen, introduced to graffiti by hip-hop culture, which has long celebrated the art form.
“I just fell in love with the rawness of painting a wall — even with one can of spray paint, there’s nothing like it,” he says.
After taking years off from his visual art to travel and perform as the drummer of a metal band, JEKS returned to street art just over a year ago. He had no idea the opportunity it would present.
In recent years, street art and murals in particular have become a hot trend in cities around the globe. Plug the hashtag “mural” into Instagram, and nearly 7 million posts featuring street art from locales as diverse as Lisbon, Paris, Nashville and Austin, Texas, pop up.
These murals lure tourists and local art hounds alike with their colorful, imaginative style that marries graffiti with more traditional painting styles like abstraction and hyperrealism.
In Greensboro, street artists have an ideal patron — real estate developer Marty Kotis. With properties all over the city and a taste for street art, Kotis has helped bring the white-hot trend of poppy, vibrant murals to the Gate City.
“He collects art — but instead of paintings in his house, he has these giant canvases on his buildings that he collects,” JEKS says.
Kotis tapped JEKS for some of his projects, including a mural depicting a baby floating underwater, a spray paint can in its hand. Given free reign design-wise, JEKS drew inspiration from the building itself, which houses the BadAxe Boutique guitar shop in the Westover Gallery of Shops between Westover Terrace and Lawndale Drive.
“I decided to do my take on Nirvana’s Nevermind cover with the baby underwater, but I made it myself,” he explains. “The face pretty much looks just like me when I was a baby.”
That kind of large-scale, realistic project requires a fair amount of planning and patience to execute. While he often uses a photo for reference as he works, JEKS also maps the paintings before beginning to ensure the scale is correct.
“I’ve learned a few techniques to map it without a projector, which means I’m not just limited to working at night,” he says. “It takes a little more time — that’s the hardest part — mapping it precisely. If you’re painting a face, if you move the eye an inch or two, you change the whole face.”
The result is not only visually stunning — it also inspires a sense of wonder at the process to create such a work. “When you see a 50-foot mural up close, you feel in awe,” JEKS says.
JEKS hopes his art can do more than just conjure a sense of awe. Along with his more pop culture-influenced pieces, he’s created memorial murals, such as the one depicting his friend Joey Deweese, who was killed by a drunk driver this year. He has dreams of painting a similar mural outside a bar or club to warn patrons about the consequences of drinking and driving. He’s still looking for a business to partner with him on such a project.
“I hope that someone walking out of a bar would see it and maybe think twice about getting behind the wheel,” he says. “I want to stop this from happening to someone else.”
Contact Jennifer Bringle at firstname.lastname@example.org.